Data in a Cookieless World: What steps can organisations and Marketing Managers take today to prepare for a cookieless future?

Published on October 30, 2023 by Alex Eade

In October, we hosted an event in partnership with law firm, RPC, looking at how marketers will be able to use data in a cookieless world.

Our panel consisted of five industry experts – Kiran Dhoot, Associate at RPC; Sarah Edwards, Director at Make it Clear; Sarah Willcocks, CEO at Screen Pages; Kate Brinkley, Head of Digital Planning at The Specialist Works; and Tom Cox, Relationship Manager at Footprint Digital.

The final question that we asked our experts was: are there any steps and actions that marketing managers should be taking now to prepare for a cookieless future?


Sarah W: Work out what tools are available that can be legally used as alternative methods of gathering data. There are service-side tools, but there are also other ways of anonymously measuring what’s going on on your website and what your user base is doing using machine learning techniques. There’s a lot of software out there which you can infer trends from. You don’t necessarily need to rely on the methods you’ve been using and wait for something to replace them – you can think outside of the box now and research what’s possible.


Kate: From a media and measurement perspective – start testing things. We’ve always used portions of budgets for testing to keep moving that conversation forward, so start testing cookieless targeting techniques and look at what impact contextual data is having. We work with tech suppliers who have translated their behavioural modelling into a predictive model and they’re working without cookieless signals now. So test that as 20% of your budget and see what impact that’s having on your ad campaigns. Is it performing better or worse? More than 60% of the internet is already cookieless. If you think about the amount that’s on mobile and app now, it’s already happening. So from a media perspective, start testing around it, chat to your agencies – they’ll be able to talk to you about all your different routes into looking at that.  

Also, start to look at how you’re measuring now. Start to build additional measurement frameworks that aren’t reliant on last-click attribution or last-touch attribution. Look at what those extra levels are, so you can start to build confidence more broadly in your business on performance without those historic methods (that will become less and less accurate over time).


Tom: I completely agree. Testing is something that we’ve been looking to push more from a marketing perspective. With our clients, we advocate pushing more towards the first-party stuff and looking at how that data can be used more effectively – but ensuring it’s fresh as well. We recently had a challenge with a client where they had 15-20,000 emails to target. We plugged that data into Google and it came back as too small to serve, so it’s about ensuring your data is up to date and correct, and focusing on contextual targeting and the ways we can utilise the platforms to the best of their ability. Looking at demographic targeting, affinity audiences and other things in those platform systems to create something that’s a bit more tailored and targeted. Like we said, it’s going to be more of a testing ground going forwards, and a good opportunity to test the top level of the funnel from that awareness stage and filter people down the funnel. 


Kate: Contextual signals are very broad as well. We say ‘contextual’ and in my mind, I always jump to ‘Am I consuming, in my case, loads of celeb gossip, fashion…’ no one really wants to see my browsing history! But, beyond that, it’s things like the weather, are you in the UK, time of day, time of week, time of year? Weather now plugs into the digital home, so you can change your content based on whether it’s raining, sunny or windy. These things have had a massive impact on our performance for a really long time. Contextual data is a really broad area with so much scope to plug-in from different areas that aren’t about an individual person, but individual people can tap into that way of thinking. It’s that adjustment from thinking ‘person first’ to something that people can relate to. 


Sarah E: From a UX perspective, it’s really important for marketing managers to understand their user base, and understanding what their concerns are as well. A lot of this stuff is very complicated, and how we’re going to be changing our relationship with our target audience is a key factor. At the moment, people are concerned about how they’re being stalked around the internet by ads. 


Sarah W: Absolutely, your average web user might not understand how that works and they might get freaked out by the fact that they were talking about handbags and then suddenly they’ll look on their Facebook page or their Instagram and there’ll be the handbag they were talking about and they’ll think ‘Oh! My phone’s listening to me!’ This isn’t a new thing, and there’s a lot of catastrophising. 


Sarah E: Yeah, and there’s a lot of mistrust, so this is an opportunity to swap that around. From that point of view, understanding your user base and what they might be concerned about – treat this as a chance to change that relationship. So at this point, what should marketing managers be doing? I think it’s about understanding users’ concerns, so you can change that going forward.


Kiran: From my perspective, a lot of it’s about education. Firstly, know the rough laws around data protection and cookies – we’re not all data lawyers and that’s fine. But learn about things like the new data protection and digital information bill that’s coming up in the UK. In the EU concurrently to us, if you target people with your marketing who are in the EU then EU regimes kick in, so the long-awaited EU privacy regulation is currently in trial with the European Parliament. That’s one to keep an eye on, too. That will have an impact on consent and cookies when it does come through, it’s still being negotiated. 

Secondly, I think we need to develop a ready alertness to evolving situations. You don’t need to be a data lawyer to know that if you don’t collect consent for something, that might attract some risk. If your cookies are selling data to China, that might be a risk. You don’t need to be an expert to know that if you’re buying data lists from all over the internet, then there might be a risk. Having that horizon scanning ability and knowing roughly where you are in these waters means that you can then call for a bit of assistance or seek the help you need from experts in data.